As an undergrad in Sackville, a professor of mine, unabashedly eager to evangelize about the greatness of Canadian poetry, was outwardly offended by my confession that I’d not read Thompson, at which point I was casually told that something monumental was missing from my literary tool belt. Thompson was a giant, I was told, and not to be overlooked.
And so I did read Thompson. But I did not encounter the giant as I was expecting. Instead I found a writer whose interest in language, whose precise use of subtlety and nuance, was at the forefront of each line. To me Thompson’s work seemed small and somewhat broken, circling a big idea but desperate to remain contained, limited perhaps. Critics often remark on the trials of Thompson’s personal life—the alcoholism, battles with university bureaucrats, failed marriage, illness. Undoubtedly, these experiences resonate in his poems. But my first readings of his work were innocent and unaware. Both eager and apprehensive, at the time of this first encounter with Thompson I was deeply engaged with a flurry of prose works categorized by their existential reach—Kundera, Camus, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and others. Thompson’s poetry echoed the sense of reaching I found in these writers. Each time I return to Stilt Jack, I recall that first encounter and the sense of grasping in his work.
Thursday, 23 April 2015
Circling a Big Idea
describes his first encounter with John Thompson's poetry: